With Week 11 in the books, the muddy AFC playoff race is looking slightly clearer. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs currently hold the fifth and sixth seeds in the conference, but the Texans, Bills, Jets and Raiders are all still in the hunt behind them. So who can claim the AFC’s two wild card spots?
5th seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
The Steelers remain in the fifth seed spot despite having a bye week. With Ben Roethlisberger now recovered from injury, the Steelers boast one of the league’s best offenses. Antonio Brown leads a deep receiving corps and DeAngelo Williams is running well. Pittsburgh’s defense is also playing well as a young squad of players learns and bonds together week by week. Four of Pittsburgh’s last six games come against playoff contenders, travelling to Seattle this week before hosting the Colts. They then travel to Cincinnati for a rematch against the Bengals before hosting the Broncos and finishing with a pair of divisional road games in Baltimore and Cleveland. However, the Steelers look like the strongest of the AFC’s wild card teams and could emerge from their final stretch of games at 10-6.
6th seed: Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City have salvaged their season after four straight victories. The offense is playing well without Jamaal Charles with safe, efficient play. The defense is one of the AFC’s best and will help the Chiefs contend in winter. The Chiefs also have a fairly easy remaining schedule. They host Buffalo this week before visiting the stumbling Raiders. Then they host San Diego for a rematch before visiting the Ravens and finishing the year with home games against Cleveland and Oakland. It isn’t too far-fetched to expect the Chiefs to sweep their remaining schedule and even challenge Denver for the division title.
7th seed: Houston Texans
Houston’s defense is starting to find its form after some good performances, including knocking off the previously undefeated Bengals. DeAndre Hopkins has emerged as one of the league’s best receivers and while quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates have been underwhelming, they have also been safe and efficient with the football. However, Houston’s lack of a running game could hurt them down the stretch. The Texans have a mixed remaining schedule, with games against Buffalo and New England as well as the rest of the AFC South. But even if they miss the wild card cut-off, the Texans can still make the playoffs if they can win the AFC South.
8th seed: Buffalo Bills
Buffalo’s defense played better in the loss to the Patriots and the running game is finally rolling. But injuries continue to be an issue, especially to quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Any more time with E.J. Manuel at the helm could cost the Bills a playoff berth. Buffalo has struggled for consistency this season, and that could be a problem against a mixed remaining schedule. They face the Chiefs on the road as well as hosting the Texans, as well as having a rematch with the Jets, and hosting the Cowboys. The Bills could have too many problems to overcome to make the playoffs.
9th seed: New York Jets
The Jets seem to have imploded over recent weeks. The running game is struggling and the secondary is banged up. Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t been right since a thumb injury and the offense has stalled. With a mixed remaining schedule that includes some tough opponents, the Jets are a long-shot to make the playoffs.
10th seed: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders still have a promising young offense capable of winning games, but have looked disheartened and seem to have lost their confidence. The defense is one of the league’s worst, and can’t pick up the slack when the offense struggles. With a tough remaining schedule including Denver, Green Bay, and two games against the Chiefs, the Raiders face an uphill battle to make the playoffs.